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August 10, 2012

Life is stressful, and sometimes we do things we are not proud of as a way to cope. Sometimes those things take on a life of their own, with their own I.D. and line of credit. Everyone has guilty pleasures and it is important to remember that no matter what your secret feel-good behavior is, it changes everything to tell someone about it. If you tell just one person - as long as it's the right person - you could have your own reality show.

   Having treated numerous clients as a psychotherapist over many years, I have inside knowledge about what we think of as reality: it blows. Denial is a lovely, protective bubble that has an important function, to save us from the pain of how things really are. We should cherish every blessed minute that denial holds up against terrifying facts, the way Mitt Romney lovingly shields his tax returns from being violated by anyone's prying eyes. It's like his tax returns are people - or as some would say, "corporations" - and he is fiercely persistent about their privacy. The reality of those returns will probably bite Mr. Romney and denial works well in a case like that, as it does in the case of Paul Ryan's confusing relationship with government "help." He may be secretly ashamed about receiving "big government" checks in the form of Social Security survivor benefits after his father died when he was 16. As we all know, those checks, which he used to go to the college of his choice, destroyed his personal initiative and strangled the economy, as do all government checks to widows, bereaved children, the unemployed or any other individual person.

 As the same time, it is important – and potentially life-changing – to share your secrets. I hear every kind of story and every kind of secret, and one thing has become crystal clear to me, particularly in light of the way the culture has changed over the last 15 years or so: no matter how terrible you think your secrets are, if you can tell even one other person, as long as it’s the right person, you could have your own talk show. Or a reality show.

     As a mental health professional I am compelled to mention that watching reality shows may be destructive to mental health, while being on one can be a win-win: your secret is no longer a cruel reminder of shameful, perhaps criminal choices - like animal cruelty or tax evasion - and is instead the source of a nice payday. There are existing reality shows for which many people have the requisite dysfunction – there can never be enough Real Housewives (Mrs Ryan of Wisconsin, get some of your galpals together and start a catfight over some cheddar fondue!), Teen Moms, Half Pint Brawlers, Throttle Junkies, Bridezillas,  or Oddities. And the genre is wide open for new shows to be designed around anyone with a set of quirks or quintuplets. Temptation Island can be adapted in a variety of interesting ways. “Socially Awkward" or “Bigot’'s Island” woulld have an endless stream of participants and long, profitable runs.

   If the reality show route does not work out, disconnect from the painful truth like the GOP denies Sarah Palin. To cope with the messiness and pain of real life,  watch TV shows that make up their own reality. Like The Andy Griffith Show. Or The O’Reilly Factor.